My Exchange Adventure

Mackenzie G, Bachelor of Industrial Design
Aston University, Birmingham, England (Semester 1, 2016)

One of the many trips around the UK. This time a weekend in Scotland with people from all around the world.

My Experience
Do you fancy seeing the world? Feel like shaking things up? Want to make uni a lot more fun? If this sounds like you then go sign up for student exchange!
Student exchange is an opportunity to live and study overseas. You get to meet people from all parts of the globe, see places you never would and have the time of your life all while completing your studies.

Earlier this year I flew over to Birmingham, England to complete my first semester of third year industrial design at Aston University. For four months I lived and studied abroad in a country I’ve never been to. There I learnt about product design, made worldwide friends and had an absolutely great time all the while completing my studies.
Aston University was my uni of choice for its industry backed reputation and central location.

Although the content they taught was more on the engineering side, they provided knowledge that I would likely not learn elsewhere. Submitting assignments, sitting exams and general university life was not so different to how we do it here which made adapting to their system a breeze.

Similarly studying in an English speaking country was not a problem at all. The accents and weather were the biggest difference initially but were soon overcome. So no intense culture shock here compared to the more foreign locations available. That said if you want to take it easy, Canada, USA and the UK are more comfortable options should English be your native language.

Life abroad at university is fun. Aston accommodates foreign exchange students very well with regular events and trips around the country. The majority of exchange students hung out together and with people from all over Europe, South America and just about everywhere else we felt a great sense of community exploring and learning together as foreigners.

For me I chose not to work and relied upon loans and savings to keep myself financially supported. So not needing a job meant I had more time to study and even more time to explore the UK and just have fun. With my crew of international students we visited most major UK cities, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and so on. Unique to the English semester is a three week mid semester holiday. Being so close to France and in the middle of winter that meant skiing was up for grabs. So my mid semester break consisted of a week-long ski trip with the uni and two weeks of hot, beautiful sun in the Canary Islands. Luckily for me it wasn’t all about studying. Maybe your university has something similar. You can make your student exchange custom made for whatever interests you! Something not thought about often when considering student exchange.

The Application Process
Getting sorted for a student exchange is no easy task. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. A lot of research and hard work is required but the effort is worth the reward. A lot of the time my effort was independent simply because there were questions that only I could find the answers to… mostly specific university queries. Although it was difficult my motivation kept the ball rolling, something we tend to forget when going through this process.

The opportunity to work alongside students from different cultures on the other side of the world is worth every ounce of effort.

Finances
A common concern is money and to how fund such an extravagant adventure. Fortunately there are awesome financial assistance options available from QUT. The OS help loan and the mobility grant made my venture possible. Applying for and receiving these are nothing short of easy. With a minimum of $8000 AUD available anything from your own pocket would only be for an extended holiday!
When it comes to budgeting research is key. Finding everyday living costs is essential especially if you’re thinking of living in the UK, Switzerland or any other expensive locations. The small things really add up.

As far as accommodation goes share houses are the best option. Cheap and entertaining they’re nothing short of fun. My house was intensely multicultural which furthered my travel education but also provided another social circle. Comparatively the on campus accommodation at Aston is rather pricey but more student orientated. Again research is key here.

The appropriate visa will make returning to your host country a breeze. This allowed me to skip between the UK and France with ease.

Visas
Before leaving Australia ensure you have the appropriate visa and ensure your passport meets federal requirements. Ensure in advance so you’re not caught rushing around last minute.

The study visa for the UK was a frustratingly slippery slope. Students who have studied there offered mixed advice and the visa website was just as helpful. Trying to save a few hundred dollars by not getting one is risky business but its best to play it safe. Upon entering the country I was told this wasn’t required but soon after relieved by my enrolling member of staff as she reassured me this was a necessary requirement of the university. Nothing too special with passports, just make sure there is plenty of time left on it before it expires.

Customise Your Experience
One aspect not discussed enough is how you can revolve your exchange around what you want to do. My initial idea was basically studying overseas and seeing the sights. However you can leave home well before semester starts and get into some travelling, complete your semester then top it off with a couple more months of travel. Or do like I did and compete in heaps of skateboard races around Europe! It might sound like a holiday but there is a lot to learn when you’re not at uni.

Once the semester concluded I travelled through Europe and attended many skateboard races. A long time dream now accomplished. (I’m in the grey suit).

If I Could Do It Again
I would be extra adventurous. I would try out a non-English speaking country, somewhere that teaches classes in English but with a culture greatly different to Australia. Unknown to me was how much of the European population spoke English. Knowing this I would have jumped in the deep end for a totally foreign experience.

Uni at the Top of the World

Kieren Q., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)
BI Norwegian Business School, Norway (Semester 1, 2017)

My name is Kieren Quach and I spent a semester abroad in Norway. During this time, I studied at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, the capital city of Norway. I lived at Boligstiftelsen Nydalen (BSN) which was one of the main student accommodation sites available to us exchange students. The photo below is the main office of where I lived, where I signed my contract and received my keys.

Accommodation

I don’t have any good photos of the inside of the dorms, however each room is equipped with a window which is seen above the main office. Each room is also equipped with a bed, table, chair, bedside table, closet, and bookshelf. A good thing to note is that items such as pillows, blankets, sheets, wifi router, and other luxuries must be purchased elsewhere. Another thing to note is that previous tenants may leave some of these stuff behind so be sure to check before you go buying your own stuff and you may be as lucky as I was. For us exchange students we could only pick to live in a two-person apartment so I had a Scottish roommate who was a blast to have. You’d share a bathroom and kitchen with them meaning you had to divide who had to clean and when. Enough about accommodations, I didn’t even spend that much time there.

How was BI different to life at QUT? For starters, BI Oslo is just one big building, almost like a cube. Everything is indoors, probably as shelter to the inconsistent weather there. This made it simple because everything was within walking distance: food, gym, office supplies, etc. In terms of academics, 35% of the total 100% for the unit is enough to pass making things a lot less stressful. Below is an image of me at the main sign outside the university.

I forgot there was a page limit to this so I’ll cut things short. Going on exchange was the best decision of my life. Sure the culture is different BUT THAT’S THE POINT! To be able to experience the other side of the world like that was enlightening and if I had the opportunity to do it again I would take it in a heartbeat. Tip for future students – always take care of your stuff because I had my phone stolen in Stockholm.

Fall in Love with Copenhagen

Vicky Z., Bachelor of Creative Industries
Danish School of Media & Journalism, Denmark (Semester 2, 2017)

Host University

The Danish School of Media & Journalism (DMJX) is seriously a great school, and SO different from QUT. It’s academically intense and the students are older (23-30, since most have already completed a past degree in design) and very talented and serious, yet the classroom had a relaxed and family-like vibe. The school is really hard to get into and its students are sought-after in the design industry!

DMJX

I had class Monday to Friday, from 9am to about 1pm, although in busier times we’d all stay until 4pm or even 10pm, working. The class had 23 students, and we were in the same room every day. The best parts were that we each had a desk and Mac (like a studio!), and the canteen was amazing and affordable.

We would have the same teacher for 2-6 weeks, and guest lectures/presentations/briefs from small and large companies all the time. We had Volvo, DR (Denmark’s largest TV Radio Media company like the ABC), Bennybox (an animation company in Copenhagen), and many more. A lot of time was self-directed learning and working on assignments, with lectures being casual.

DMJX

We only worked on one assignment at a time, which I really liked. At the end of each task, there was no criteria sheet or marking. Instead, we’d give a short presentation to the class, and receive feedback from the teacher, guest, and each other. It was inspiring and I learned a lot from seeing other students’ work.

Accommodation

I applied for housing through DMJX, and they offered me a room at Hjortespringkollegiet in Herlev. It was a 30 minute bike ride from school and about an hour from the city center, which was a little far, but bearable. My room was huge by dorm standards; I had my own bathroom and balcony, and shared a clean, large kitchen with 10 others. Around 1 in 12 students are exchange students; the rest are Danish. I recommend living here — I really loved it and made many friends. The dorm bar was open once or twice a week; it’s easy to meet people and make friends there.

Accommodation

Accommodation

Accommodation

Host Country

Denmark is such a wonderful country. The cost of living is similar or a little higher than Brisbane. Public transport and eating out are expensive, but if you ride your bike and cook more at home, it’s not too bad. Copenhagen is hip and I loved the fashion, jewelry, art, and Scandinavian style.

Denmark

Danish people are really easy to get along with. They’re really friendly, although some may warm up to you a bit more slowly. And there are almost no language barriers as they are all very good at English (even grannies speak fluently).

Denmark

Some differences I noticed were that when people get off the bus, they don’t say ‘thank you’, and paying at supermarkets is a very fast, impersonal, brisk process. No small talk. They scan your items ridiculously fast, you kind of just get out as soon as possible. But in smaller shops and boutiques, they’re super friendly.

Denmark

On almost every street you will find a plant shop (flowers, succulents and whatnot), a pay-by-weight candy store, a hairdresser, kebab store, and bakery!

Highlights of exchange

Meeting so many people was amazing, and seeing so many cities was wonderful. I loved that I could call Copenhagen my home for five months, and become familiar with all the stores, brands, suburbs, streets, and the city as a whole.

Denmark

Denmark

Things You Didn’t Expect

Everyone’s naked in the communal showers and change rooms.

When I went on the school camp, and to a public swimming pool, the girls’ showers had no cubicles! It was just one big room with shower heads in a row. At first I was very reluctant, but then I decided to just suck it up and embrace the Danish way of life. I highly recommend this experience. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.

Another thing I didn’t expect was how depressing and energy-sucking the cold darkness can be. In January, the sun rose at 8.30 and set at 4pm. The short, cold days and lack of sunshine made me feel tired and a lot drearier than in summer. I wish I could’ve been more positive and taken initiative to do fun things and socialized and continued exploring the city, but honestly I just wanted to crawl into a hole and lie there most days. In Summertime the sun sets at 9pm though, and it’s the bomb dot com.

Danish Food!

Tips & Advice for Future Students

  • You must get a bike. It’s the easiest, cheapest, most fun way to get around. Make sure you lock it every time though. Biking around the city and surrounding suburbs is super easy and so beautiful, especially during summer.
  • If you try to learn Danish, make sure you practice speaking early on! Danes love helping and correcting you and teaching you phrases.
  • Get a Citibank no fee debit card. The exchange rate is good and there are no fees. I used this card for all my travels and time in Denmark.
  • Try the ‘ristet pølse med det hele’ from the hotdog stand behind the Vesterbro train station. It’s a hotdog with mustard, ketchup, remoulade, raw onions, fried crispy onions and pickles.
  • Zaggi’s cafe near Nørreport does 15kr (3 aud) coffees and cakes!
  • Many of the museums and galleries are free on certain days of the week, be sure to visit them because they are all very cool! Especially the National Gallery of Denmark.
  • Try to visit Dyrehaven — this park used to be the royal hunting grounds and now it’s where adorable deer roam free!
  • Not to be mixed up with the park, Cafe Dyrehaven does excellent smørrebrød for ~$10 aud each. The chicken one and potato one are nice.
  • If you visit Malmo (the Swedish city across the bridge from Copenhagen), try to take a daytrip to Lund as well. It’s a small, cute town.
  • Shop at Flying Tiger and Søstrene Grene for cute, cheap homewares when you first move in. They’re a bit like Kmart.
  • Do lots of outdoor stuff in summer! Fælledparken (park), Superkilen (park), the lakes, Dyrehaven, paddleboating, the beach, botanic gardens, FLEAMARKETS, Kongens Have (the King’s Park)… there is so much to do and it is so so so beautiful.
  • Fall in love with Copenhagen and go back one day :’)

Tokyo Game Show

Grace G., Bachelor of Engineering (Honors)
International Christian University, Japan (Semester 2, 2016)

As an engineering student at QUT, my primary motivation for studying overseas was to better understand how computer-human interaction differs between cultures. And now, having spent the Autumn trimester at the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo I can honestly say this experience has impacted more than just my education, it has provided me with the skills and confidence to improve my own life as well. So I’d like to take this opportunity to share my experience and hopefully encourage you, my fellow students, to pursue an exchange period in Tokyo, Japan.

Firstly, let me start off by saying that ICU is an incredible school. The teachers are very knowledgeable and supportive, engaging with students and encouraging us to develop our own ideas and pursue subjects beyond the classroom. ICU differs from QUT in that it’s classes are much smaller, making it easier for teachers to tailor the learning experience to meet the needs of individual students. As far as the facilities go, the campus has a very convenient post office, gym and my dream library alongside a cafeteria, called ガッキ (‘Gakki’), which is a combination of the Japanese word ‘学生’ (‘Gakusei’ or ‘Student’) and the English word ‘Kitchen’. There is also on-campus housing, however there weren’t many rooms available when I applied, so I ended up living in a share house in beautiful Koganei. I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in such a wonderful place. Koganei was very homely, which made it easier for me to grow an attachment to my new surroundings. However, there is less support available for exchange students living off-campus, which is only a problem when it comes time for ward office registration. Something I would recommend with hindsight is to look up an English translation of the appropriate forms before you go, as there is unlikely to be any English support available to you in your local ward office.

Now since returning home I’ve been asked a few times to choose my favourite memory from studying in Tokyo, and I continuously struggle to answer. I had so many wonderful experiences in Japan and choosing just one is not easy. However I do consider myself exceptionally lucky, that my exchange period just happened to coincide with the Tokyo Game Show. Whenever I think about the day I spent playing demos, admiring VR headsets and listening to presentations made by some of my personal heroes, I feel a surge of gratitude to both QUT and ICU for giving me this opportunity to experience new things and grow in ways I’d never imagined.

It was studying abroad that helped me to realise giving in to my fear of failure only ever guaranteed it, and success is in my power to define. There was a time when I didn’t think I was capable of studying abroad, but with the support of my family, friends and both QUT and ICU I was able to face my fears and enjoy an incredible semester.

So, I’ll leave you with this final piece of advice, if you’re considering going on exchange remember what it is you want from this experience and strive for it! Don’t let fear hold you back from the adventure that awaits you!

頑張れ

What One Can Do Tomorrow, One Can Do Today

Harry B., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honors)
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany (Semester 2, 2016)

The task of conveying my experience on exchange feels somewhat futile, for what made the experience unforgettable – the people met, language learnt, and culture lived – cannot, without losing something of its charm, be neatly distilled into a blog post. Can my friends, my parents, really understand just what it was that I underwent, why it was that I relished my time overseas; the experience and memories being so subjectively and personally my own. Perhaps this scepticism is shared by the exchange faculty, who advised in the writing of this post I focus on the university, facilities, costs, campus life and general tips – in short, just the most useful and easily digestible snippets of information addressed to the palate of the reader who is preparing, or contemplating, their own experience, not so much yours. So it is this I have attempted in the following few paragraphs.

The Berlin School of Economics and Law, where I studied, is in German classified a Hochschule – something of a university, but on a smaller scale, with smaller class and campus sizes. My lectures rarely had more than 30 people, my tutorials even less. This is vastly different to QUT and, I discovered, quite to my liking. For it was because of this the students became better friends, and the learning experience more intimate. Downsides do exist, but are not sufficient, surely, to hamper things: the library was to my mind under resourced, having neither enough places to study, nor computers to use. But I am guessing those reading this, if they’re on exchange, will not frequent the library all that often. My chief gripe, which is to the detriment of us internationals, is the absence of a well organised and supported club for exchange students. Although some effort was being made to remedy this towards the end of my stay, this was of no help to me, whose efforts to meet people would have been greatly assisted by an organisation, like QUT Exchange Buddies Club here, which organised bar nights and activities. Again, given the city in which you live, Berlin, is not short of entertainment, you may not find this gripe as deleterious as did I. But certainly one has a far better time gallivanting around with friends, than without, and it is through clubs run for the benefit of exchange students you meet such comrades.

I resided in private accommodation, which was quite expensive. Places in Berlin are becoming dearer and harder to find, so ensure you secure a place to live –using, say, AirBnb or or the fantastic WG-gesucht.com – well, well, in advance. Alternatively, one could through the university apply for a room in a student dorm, run by the organisation Studentenwerk. Though in general further out from the city centre, they are very affordable and populated with students. You will find, I am told, that the commute is not prohibitively long (especially biking to the train station) – at least not so long as to negate the other, sizable benefits of staying there.

Berlin, apart from the sometimes high cost of private accommodation, is affordable. We live in an expensive country, so I suppose wheresoever we go we will be pleasantly surprised, but everything – public transport, food and groceries, alcohol, entertainment, health insurance – is markedly less expensive than Brisbane.

As to the culture of the place, I have been on a previous exchange to Germany, that time to Mannheim, and must say, the feel of Berlin is itself unique; it has no counterpart, I do not think, across country or even Europe. Frankly, I can imagine few places where a student exchange would be more fitting. There is plenty to do and see – which you probably did not require my assurance of. I recommend learning the language: there is an intensive class offered in the month preceding the commencement of classes. It helps to know a few words. Culture shock, to be honest, is not the problem it may have been in other Germany cities and towns. Berlin is extremely cosmopolitan, an unbelievable melting pot, and it is not uncommon to hear many different languages spoken in cafes and trains. To be sure, there are many locals earnestly going about their business, whose sensibilities you ought not to disregard. But on the whole, people tend to coexist in acceptance of and harmony with everyone else.

Tips:

  • Should you have the money, get German health insurance (80 Euro per month) – this will save you some hassle.
  • Ration your money, spent wisely and be resourceful.
  • Without being reckless, take risks: you are, for a short period, incognito.
  • Meet people and make friends as quickly as possible, organise outings.
  • Improve your cooking, stay healthy, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and take vitamin pills.
  • Above all: do not waste what little time you have. You will be on your long haul hour flight back to banal Brisbane before you know it, so hit the ground running, be prepared and make no excuses for yourself. What one can do tomorrow, one can do today.

Getting Giddy in Glasgow

Liam M., Bachelor of Journalism / Bachelor of Laws (Honors)
University of Glasgow, Scotland (Semester 2, 2016)

There is a saying in french: Il n’y a d’homme plus complet que celui qui a beaucoup voyage, qui a change vingt fois la forme de sa pensée et de sa vie, which means that there is no man more complete than he who has travelled a lot, who has changed the shape of his thoughts and his life twenty times. And to be frank, I think this sums up my exchange experience beautifully.

For me the whole idea of embarking on an exchange program was to broaden my mind and my life through another culture or cultures so that upon my return I could come back enriched with life experience, great memories and stories that I will remember forever. I have been fortunate throughout my life to have travelled with my family, but there is nothing quite like moving overseas by yourself for the very first time. This was my reality on the 23rd of August 2016 as I ventured on a 26 hour flight to Paris, and then eventually over to the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Words couldn’t describe the emotions that I was feeling after spending over a week in Paris, five days in London and then finally arriving in Glasgow. As I hopped out of Glasgow Central train station I arrived in what could be described as typical Scottish summer weather, 13 degrees and raining. However, I couldn’t be more excited to move into my student flat.

Over the coming days and weeks everything seemed to move very fast. From moving in, to making new friends and countless orientation activities and to the infamous “freshers week” everything was great. I couldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world. However, nothing will challenge you more on exchange than being essentially alone, and sick overseas. Halfway through freshers week, I had contracted tonsillitis for the very first time, and it was a very trying time as I attempted to take care of myself, while extremely sick. This is probably one thing you cannot prepare for before going on exchange, as no one can predict how healthy you’re going to be while overseas. However, it taught me that you really have to look after yourself no matter how much fun you’re having, eat good food, get enough sleep and in Scotland, wear the appropriate warm clothes so you don’t get sick. The University of Glasgow had made every exchange student feel extremely welcome by throwing all sorts of events throughout the coming weeks. One particular favourite was the Ceilidh, a Scottish party where traditional dances take place.

Throughout the semester I took three subjects, equivalent to QUT’s four. I probably didn’t enjoy them as much as I should have, but learning about a different country’s legal system was interesting albeit challenging at the same time. I made a lot of friends at GU, who weren’t just exchange students. This is because I joined the legal society and GUSWPC, which is Glasgow Uni’s swimming and water-polo club. This was probably the highlight of my time abroad because I made many local Scottish and English friends that will be in my life for many, many years. This would be my main recommendation to anyone going on exchange and wanting to immerse themselves in their host universities life: join a club or society that you’re interested in, as it is the easiest way to make local friends and to really have a good time. I was lucky enough to be selected on the men’s water-polo and men’s swimming teams. With swimming, I was able to compete at the British National University Championships, local club meets, inter-university league matches and the Scottish National Swimming Championships. I even took part in a swimming camp in the Canary Islands after my exchange had finished, which was the best way to say goodbye to my Scottish friends.

I also got a job while in Glasgow, and this showed me a very different side to Scottish culture and allowed me to experience different things while abroad. I was also able to spend my hard earned Scottish pounds. I made the most of days off uni and weekends when I wasn’t working by travelling around Scotland and England as much as I could. From St. Andrews, to Edinburgh, to the Scottish Highlands and the different Lochs and Isles. Scotland was more beautiful than I imagined. Though, throughout all this travelling I still had to keep up with my studies, and before I knew it, Christmas exams were around the corner and it dawned on me that the end of my time in Glasgow was almost here. I tried to extend my exchange for another semester, but subject approvals let me down. Nevertheless I couldn’t have been happier with how my time in Scotland went.

However, even though my exchange at Glasgow was up, my real travelling time was just beginning. From the beginning of January to the end of February I visited 14 countries throughout Europe and the middle-east, I made lots of friends, had many sleepless nights, ate delicious different foods, got food poisoning, went skiing in the Austrian Alps, visited eastern Europe and made many memories that will be with me forever. I really couldn’t have asked for a better exchange experience, because everything I did, I loved, and I wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe applying for a year exchange instead of 6 months 😛 ). However, I have come back a more mature, sophisticated, well travelled boy who can now share my stories in the hopes that many other future QUT students use their abilities to embark on what really is a once in a life time opportunity to study abroad. Thank you Study Abroad QUT for giving me this opportunity. I couldn’t be more grateful.

The Exchange Timeline: A Comprehensive Guide to What You Will Think and Feel

Claire B., Bachelor of Journalism
University of Leeds, England (Semester 2, 2017)

I wanted to write a blog post that I thought would be helpful for future exchange students to read, but I didn’t want to write a “What I Wish I Knew”, “Highlights Of My Exchange” or “What I Have Learnt” blog, so instead I am going to tell you the cycle of emotions you will feel whilst on exchange.

 

1. “I’m sorry… what? Could you just slow down and write that all down for me because I have no idea what you just said” – when you arrive on exchange people like to bombard you with information (verbal and paper form). They usually speak like you have a mild idea of what you are doing (which you don’t) and deliver all 10 steps to settling in at once, instead of 1 at a time.

2. “Hmmm how do I make friends?” – so you arrive and you are entirely disorientated, confused and tired but you have to make friends otherwise you are going to be alone and miserable for the next 6 months… but you haven’t had to make new friends since starting year 8. It’s okay, take a breath and say hi… and if necessary acting entirely desperate usually gets sympathy invites.

3. Homesickness – for some this may happen earlier than others, its usually worse when special occasions roll around and can even come in waves but it’s important to remember that this is an amazing opportunity and once you get home again, you’ll be asking yourself “why did I want to come back to my boring life where I have no money or job?” So make the most of it!

4. “Assignments? You mean this isn’t a holiday” – it may not affect your GPA but you do still have to do work to pass… shocking right?

5. Everyone in your last week of exchange: “Bet you are looking forward to going home!” You: “I’m happy sad… happy to see everyone back home, but sad to say goodbye to those I have met” – you create a life for yourself on exchange, a mini family and support network. You achieve so much and it seems heartbreaking to leave it all behind, but you know that on the other end of the ridiculously long flight home (because you live in Australia that is basically in the middle of nowhere and near nothing) there are a group of people that love you.